Anti-Catholicism in John Webster's tragedies



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During the last decade scholarly interest in John Webster has increasingly focused on theological aspects of his two tragedies, The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi. This trend together with the long-standing critical opinion that Webster's tragedies lack clearly-defined moral vision has formed the basis for a re-evaluation of his work against the religious background of seventeenth-century England. Webster's tragedies reflect virulent anti-Catholicism that was prevalent at the time by characterization of diabolically evil Cardinals, by imagery of the diseased and decadent society ruled by the Roman Catholic Church, and by inverted religious rituals satirizing Church sacraments. Although The White Devil and The Duchess of Halfi have long been accused of presenting no moral vision, the two plays, in fact, imply a powerful affirmative message in antithesis to the negative exempla presented by the almost totally evil Italian, Roman Catholic world they depict.